Guide To Teaching and Learning

Why Attendance Matters

As reported in Educause, research shows the value of student attendance: “[A] meta-analysis has revealed that attendance positively affects both course grades and GPA and is the single strongest predictor of college grades…. Attendance matters not only because it enables the transfer of content knowledge within a particular course or student activity, but attendance provides students with access to other, noncontent-specific contextual information, resources and relationships that can positively impact their knowledge and sense of belonging…. Attending class sessions helps students to stay on track, understand expectations, foster important peer social interactions and generally promote a sense of connectedness. Increasingly, attendance is being understood as a precursor and leading indicator for student success.” 

The research also shows that attendance matters to students. While they dislike mandatory attendance policies, they admit “they would miss class more frequently without one,” and in one report cited, 85% prefer to have one. Attendance policies:

  • provide guidance, allow students to know what they have to do and prime them to communicate with faculty about attendance issues. 
  • set expectations and indicate the importance of their presence to their instructors, “which can be a factor in student engagement, belonging, and mattering.”
  • support self-regulated learning strategies.

Educause Review: How Student Attendance Can Improve Institutional Outcomes

Suggestions for promoting attendance

Most importantly, talk with your students about why attendance matters: to develop social bonds; because people need to learn to work with people, and not just through a screen; to participate in activities that deepen learning and engagement; they’ll get better help; and because of the outcomes noted above. And don’t just say these things on the first day; reiterate them over the first few weeks of the semester to really set the tone. If there’s trouble with attendance, ask what’s impeding their coming to class. What can you talk through with them and get at the root causes of their decision not to attend?

Consider designing activities that build from week to week to encourage students to come back and activities that use ongoing teams to promote mutual accountability. They’re more likely to show up for their peers than for you.

Some faculty make assignments due well before the next class meeting. The stress students may experience about not having done an assignment that is due may lead to absences. Further, faculty can hold themselves accountable by reviewing the work before the class and disseminating it to the students present.

As we learned in teaching online, online asynchronous discussion promotes equity for those students who, for whatever reason, may find live, in-class participation challenging. Many New School students are English language learners and the additional time afforded to write and revise written responses promotes their active participation. Using the Canvas discussion board also allows absent students to fully participate, whether or not they also join in-person classes via Zoom.

Make in-class attendance participatory and engaging through multiple modes:

  • Small group discussions and activities
  • Paired discussions, even ‘speed dating’
  • Think-Write-Share, in which students have to time formulate a response, write and edit the response and then share it with the class orally or on a shared screen like Miro or Mural
  • Excursions in which student pairs or teams venture outside the classroom on learning activities
  • And consider these suggestions from education developer Katy Farber, as reported in Edutopia: “During brainstorming sessions, consider supplementing classroom conversations with a Padlet where students can post ideas and everyone’s contributions are visible to the group. For reflection exercises, try giving students some choice in how they share their thoughts—they might doodle their reflection in Google Draw, or record their voices on VoiceThread or Flipgrid.”
  • Encourage peer teaching in pairs or small groups; they report to the class their understanding and instructors can address any misunderstandings or concerns

In grading, attendance should not be used as a box to be checked off. Students should understand what they gain through attending class. Students can also be asked to rank themselves on their attendance. 

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